Last week saw the release of a new fantasy and RPG influenced graphic novel, A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles from Haiko Hörnig and Marius Pawlitza
Olly MacNamee: I think it’s safe to say that this new graphic novel series, starting with A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles is your love letter to RPGs, with its fast-paced action and the labyrinthian house that our hero inherits at the centre of this saga. But, beyond that, where did you get the initial idea for this story?
Haiko Hörnig: It’s hard to say exactly where ideas come from but in the case of A House Divided, I had been carrying several scenes in my head for a very long time. Scenes of soldiers clashing swords and firing cannons, with the small twist that the battlefield was in a living room or a kitchen. Marius and I had been making short webcomics together for a couple of years and in 2013 we felt ready to tell a longer, more epic story. I pitched Marius my initial idea (which at this point was little more than a setting), and he was immediately hooked.
Marius Pawlitza: Yes! One of the first things Haiko told me was that he imagined everything would take place in an impossibly huge magical house. It instantly clicked and I could see the first pictures emerge in front of me: Forests that end on walls with wallpaper, old ruins in forgotten rooms, an artificial sun giving light to rooms without windows, and so on. I saw great potential in restricting ourselves to the confines of a house to create interesting landscapes – or in our case interesting rooms.
OM: While the opening scene in which Henrietta is orphaned is tragic, it’s not the true tone of this book, is it? This seems more in keeping with the kind of stories you’d find in European comics like the classic Johan and Peewit, where the Smurfs made their first appearance.
HH: You’re absolutely right! The first scene is very heavy compared to the rest of the book, and it’s a bit of an unusual start to a fun adventure story. We ultimately decided to go that way, because we felt it was important for readers to understand where Henrietta came from. I think you connect with her more, when you’ve actually experienced her tragic backstory. Navigating different tonalities is really tricky. Bone did it beautifully, and many mangas and animes manage to switch from super silly to super serious in a heartbeat. I love it when it works, but it’s always a balance act.
MP: A balance worth striving for. I think contrast is not only important for pictures but just as important in a storyline.
OM: As someone who was born in Germany and grew up with a lot of European stories and graphic novels bande dessinée myself there seems to be a lot of European influences at play here too? Especially in the design work, Marius?
MP: That’s right! When we thought about the setting, we intentionally decided against a medieval-like fantasy world. Not that we don’t like those kinds of settings — we love them! But you’ve seen it in so many stories already. Instead, we started with a slightly Victorian-like world with magic and steampunk elements and hoped to develop it into something fresher. I had a bit of homework to do. During the design phase, I went with my former girlfriend on a trip to Château de Versailles near Paris. There I took a look at the large halls and ballrooms for inspiration and studied the clothing and armor of the statues, which later laid the groundwork for the character designs of Captain Booner, Flemming, and other characters.
OM: Haiko, I imagine you were influenced from having a family run a comic book store. But, how does a store like this differ in Germany, and throughout Europe for that matter? I suspect you’ve visited Amsterdam’s famous Lambiek in your time?
HH: I haven’t been to Lambiek yet (to my great shame!). As for differences, I think it’s safe to say you’ll find a larger variety of comics in most European stores. Sure, there are also the latest US superhero issues, but French and Belgian comics like Asterix, Tintin, Spirou, etc. still dominate a lot of shelves. Disney comics, like the collected works of Carl Barks, Don Rosa and especially the Lustiges Taschenbuch (Duck comics produced in Italy) are also really popular here. Apart from that, you’ll find the same kind of passionate fans all over the world.
OM: As with any RPG campaign it’s not long until Henrietta – upon arriving at the home she has inherited from her uncle, Ornun Zol – is thrown into a dramatic adventure in which we meet Nate Fleming, the Knight of Knaves and his band of rogues. He reminds me of the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. But, who were some of your favourite characters, big or small, in this story as you were developing it?
HH: I dearly love Cornelius the Kobold King, with his pot-helmet and royal riding rat! Originally, he was just supposed to be a funny one-off character, but we liked him so much he go t— nay! Demanded — a bigger role in the next three books.
MP: As a side note, you should see Haiko playing and voice acting kobolds in our D&D game. Hilarious! Personally, I’ve always been a fan of lawful, righteous characters.Though the definition of “righteous” kinda shifts and changes when you get older. Flemming is a bit more complex than he initially might seem; that’s why he’s my favourite.
OM: Henrietta’s certainly seems to have a lot of her mother in her. Even though she is thrown in at the deep end, she is a very resourceful and confident girl isn’t she?
HH: I think what makes a compelling hero isn’t to never be afraid of anything, but to stand up to trouble, despite being afraid. In the beginning, Henrietta has to struggle with a lot of pressure and anxiety. Over the course of the story, she will slowly get more comfortable in her new role as homeowner/monster janitor.
OM: Marius, your art seems to be a mix of both traditional when capturing the cast of characters and digital to flesh out the world you’re both building. It creates the feel of reading an animated film but on the printed page. I take it that was the look you were going for? It works really well.
MO: Thanks, that’s precisely what we were aiming for (I wish I had come up with this description myself!). When we were building the world of A House Divided, we searched for a look that could be rich in atmosphere and loose enough for fast-paced action. We found it in traditional animation most readers might know from older Disney or Studio Ghibli movies. Bold outlines for characters and painted backgrounds. It makes the characters stand out and felt like the right direction for what we had in mind.
OM: Quiche features very prominently too. In fact, you even include a recipe in this volume. Where did this idea come from?
HH: At the time I wrote the script, a colleague of mine started bringing self-baked quiches to our studio! It’s also a nod to Bone, where one of the rat creatures longs for a delicious Bone-quiche. Yum!
When it came to making our book, we wanted to include a few bonus pages. We came up with the idea to give fans one story-based recipe per book. So when the last book comes out, you could have a whole A House Divided themed meal!
MP: Who doesn’t love quiche? It just made sense.
OM: We get our first glimpse at Ornun Zol, even if it is just a portrait of him. And, even Henrietta is unsure as she’s never even heard of him. It’s a fun ride for now, but there seems to be a darker side to all of this. What can we expect from this story in the next volume, without giving too much away?
HH: Well, when you read the last pages of Book 1, you’ll see Henrietta’s got her work cut out for her! Book 2 is going to be a bit darker, literally, as Henrietta has to travel through the gloomy cellar beneath her house to unravel a mystery and save the town of Malrenard! Luckily, she won’t have to do it alone…
A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles is available now from Lerner Publishing Group.